A Saturday visit to the Mighty Blaze, a weekly kids’ program at a seminary school in East Oakland, changed the way I view outreach in my library work.
I was making my Summer Reading promotion visits in spring of 2013, and arrived at the Mighty Blaze with an exciting box of books to show the kids what they could earn by participating in Summer Reading at the library. I showed off Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, and Batman books to excited squeals.
“Can we take them now?” begged the girl who’d appointed herself my helper for the day.
“Not yet! You have to read for eight hours to earn a book!” I chirped.
“Okay, I’ll read that one!” She pointed to the book in my hand.
“These books are the prizes.” I was starting to realize what was wrong. “You have to read… other books to earn them.”
She pinned me with her gaze and said “but we don’t have any books.”
Kill shot. I handed over Greg, Mr. Krupp, and Batman, making a mental note to ask forgiveness later for giving away our prizes early. And I put a sticky on that note–can the library give away books as a form of outreach?
Two months later, I returned with a milk crate full of popular paperbacks, all with a sticker with the Oakland Public Library logo and “Read it. Love it. Pass it on.” The Share the Love collection was a collaborative project among several OPL children’s librarians and our supervisor. We determined together that for just a little more than what we paid for a colorful outreach brochure, we could hand a child a small paperback bearing OPL branding.
Today, the Share the Love collection is distributed by all OPL children’s librarians during outreach, and receives up to $10,000 a year in funding. My current role is to purchase all the books, and I always choose paperbacks of popular characters (I have strong opinions about the importance of TV and movie character books for kids who love them). Volunteers apply the stickers, and librarians hand them out, allowing OPL to “Share the Love” of reading outside the library walls.